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GOOD INDIAN GIRLS

STORIES

Smart, provocative and poignantly disturbing, this collection, the author's U.S. debut, signals a writer to watch.

Achingly merciless, London-born author Sidhu’s 12 short stories sharply delineate the edges of identity and sanity.

Playwright, novelist and Pushcart Prize winner Sidhu populates his collection with Indian diaspora. These haunting tales simultaneously attract and repel, enchant and shatter, evoking the ambiguous relationships between past and present, others and self. An airplane crash prompts a gas station employee to descend deeper and deeper into a madness in which everything, beginning with India itself, drops out of existence. Hoping to gain self-confidence and perhaps love, a young woman joins a decluttering class and finds herself drawn to a serial killer. A diplomat’s wife has spent so many years adapting to new cultures that she is dismayed to learn of her husband’s plan to retire. With the discovery of her pet python’s death, her confusion—what could India possibly mean to her now, after so many years and so many personas?—merges with an erotically tinged grief. Mysteriously promoted from a bottom-rung post in Africa to a cushy job in San Francisco, an alcoholic Indian diplomat tries to figure out why everyone believes he is an Urdu poet. Complicating matters are his emotionless lover and her father, who wields a strange power over her. A man’s addiction to classic novels impels him to hire a professional reader, which ruins his marriage. The discovery of a skull at an orphanage catalyzes a cult, a cult that replicates the hierarchy and complicity of colonization. Each ending seems unfinished, leaving each heart cracked open, perhaps to endure more pain or perhaps to remain simply unfulfilled. Deftly sifting through a range of less-often-visited emotions, Sidhu creates inscrutable characters inhabiting bewildering circumstances.

Smart, provocative and poignantly disturbing, this collection, the author's U.S. debut, signals a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59376-531-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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